MLB Run Differential

MLB RUN DIFFERENTIAL

When August transitions to September, our coverage here in the NOTEBOOK transitions to almost wall-to-wall football. If we’re not previewing games that are about to take place, we’re looking for clues in games that just happened. We pick up mid-week baseball coverage again in October for the playoffs because there’s heavy Las Vegas betting interest in those games. Between now and then? Football is going to be king.

It’s not quite September yet…so we’ll have at least a couple of days this week to finalize some regular season thoughts on the bases. We’ll start that process today with a look at Run Differentials to this point in the season. It’s been known for years in baseball that there’s a strong correlation between run differential and championship performance. Once that was outlined back in the early 1980’s…other analysts applied it to other sports and saw the natural correlations with point differential in football and basketball. Big talent wins big.

To give you some context for what this year’s numbers might mean, let’s run the numbers for last year’s playoff teams.

2010 RUN DIFFERENTIALS
NY Yankees: +166
Tampa Bay: +153
Philadelphia: +132
San Francisco: +114
Minnesota: +110
Atlanta: +109
Cincinnati: +105
Texas: +100

It’s interesting that all eight teams cracked the century mark last year. It was a defacto cut-off point for “playoff caliber.” You’ll see in a moment that this is VERY unlikely to happen in 2011. In fact, it would take hellacious Septembers for Detroit or the eventual NL West champ to get there. Milwaukee’s been on fire the past month and just recently made it past +50. The playoffs are not going to be as deep this year in terms of overall talent.

It’s also worth noting that +100 was enough to suggest you were good enough to win your league in the playoffs. Texas entered with the fourth best run differential in the AL, but took care of Tampa Bay and New York in short order thanks to a pitching staff that was much better than everyone realized. San Francisco would ultimately win the World Championship with only the fourth best run differential.

So…as we study the 2011 numbers momentarily, keep those thresholds in mind. Plus 100 is enough to go the distance. Over +150 is far from a guarantee that you’ll even get to the World Series. A good run differential isolates quality. It doesn’t necessarily tell you who’s going to produce in very tight games under the high pressure spotlight in a given year.

Now we’re ready to jump in. Here are run differentials through Sunday’s action…

BEST IN THE MAJORS
NY Yankees: +194
Boston: +163
Philadelphia: +157
Texas: +99

Only three teams are currently over the century mark…though Texas is knocking at the door. This is in marked contrast to what we saw last year though. Could we see a drop from eight teams all the way down to three? Can a team at +50 once the season is in the books go the distance?

Let’s note that the Yankees have played two fewer games than Boston, but still lead by a good bit. They are well-suited to win blowouts vs. bad teams in their home stadium though…which could give a false read in terms of championship hopes. The Yankees sure seemed less scary in the ALCS last year than everyone thought they’d be.

Which of these four staffs has the best pitching staffs for crunch time baseball? We’ve talked a lot this year about how strong the Texas staff is once you adjust for home field impact. The Rangers arms have shown signs of heat fatigue recently though…so it could be that pitching at a high level two years in a row is starting to wear on them. The Yankees rotation has surprisingly good road numbers…but it always looks to the naked eye that Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon are about to turn back into pumpkins. Who can you count on beyond C.C. Sabathia? Boston’s lacked depth all year in the rotation. They’d like at least one more starting arm they can trust. Philadelphia just saw Cole Hamels spend some time on the DL, as they wait to see if Roy Oswalt is ever going to regain the best of his past form. For now, we give the Phillies the edge on the mound in terms of what they would bring to each series.

SECOND TIER
Atlanta: +69
Tampa Bay: +67
Milwaukee: +60
Cincinnati: +49
St. Louis: +37
Arizona: +28
LA Angels: +20
Detroit: +8
Toronto: +1

We expected more from Atlanta in this stat given how well they’ve played all season. Maybe a strong September will get them up to +100. Notice how two current division leaders are down at the bottom of this listing. And, the LA Angels might ultimately win their division too. When you focus your handicapping so much on the day-to-day challenges, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture. Baseball’s getting top heavy again! Very surprising to have THREE potential division winners out of six down so low on the totem pole.

That’s all of the teams over break even. There’s a serious contender…and DEFENDING WORLD CHAMPION…that we haven’t even gotten to you.

NOT GOOD ENOUGH
LA Dodgers: -4
Colorado: -5
Chicago White Sox: -6
San Diego: -7
NY Mets: -15
San Francisco: -17
Cleveland: -17
Oakland: -34
Washington: -39
Pittsburgh: -47

San Francisco isn’t just negative. They’re currently fifth best in their five team division! They’ve done such a good job in close games this year that they’ve turned a negative differential into a winning record. The three teams below them in your newspaper standings are all closer to equality. Many have been surprised by San Francisco’s low level of play since the All-Star Break. This was their division to win if they just played well. Run differential shows that the Giants really aren’t any better than their closest geographic rivals. It’s taken all the veteran savvy they could muster just to be in the race.

Cleveland and the Chicago White Sox are still technically teams who could rise up and reach the postseason if Detroit falters. Tough to rise when you’re getting outscored. The AL Central doesn’t deserve to have a team in the postseason this year. Two more teams from that division are still to come.

WORST OF THE WORST
Kansas City: -63
Florida: -78
Seattle: -81
Chicago Cubs: -112
Baltimore: -126
Minnesota: -144
Houston: -157

We used -50 runs as the cutoff. Seven teams are worse than that. Though, it might be unfair to equate Kansas City and Seattle with Minnesota and Houston given those stunning collapses.

We know you’ll be studying football data very closely in the coming days and weeks. Please don’t lose track of what’s happening on the baseball diamonds. You can always make extra money for your bankroll by picking baseball winners. They pay the same way football does. And, many longtime veterans will tell you that baseball lines get softer when Vegas oddsmakers are devoting 99% of their energy to football.

If you’d like some help adding to your bankroll with baseball, you can sign up for JIM HURLEY’S BLUE RIBBON selections right here at the website. Go day-by-day and pick your spots, or enjoy discounted rates when you sign up for the rest of the season. If you have any questions about combination football/baseball packages, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453.

We’ll talk more baseball tomorrow, outlining the pitching matchups for the Yankees/Red Sox series that starts Tuesday Night. Smart for MLB to schedule that right before college football starts! Other series of interest:

Philadelphia at Cincinnati (playoff rematch)
St. Louis and Milwaukee (nail meets coffin?)
Tampa Bay at Texas (playoff rematch)

Later in the week we’ll get you up to speed in college football. We’ll devote one day to Wisconsin since they’re the showcase team Thursday Night on ESPN. TCU/Baylor will have a bowl feel to it Friday Night. Saturday’s schedule includes blockbusters like Oregon/LSU and Boise State/Georgia.

It’s a great time to be a sports fan. IT’S A GREAT TIME TO LINK UP WITH JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!

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Nov

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